Portland first-year center Greg Oden was left to work out on his own whenever his Blazer teammates hit the road. - AP

Looking Ahead

PORTLAND — Greg Oden is simply not the type to dwell on the misfortune of his first season in the NBA.

The perpetually positive 7-footer is looking ahead.

"I'm just antsy, you know, to compete. To get out there and to be able to win a game, I miss that feeling," he said.

Oden's rookie season was iced before it even started when he had microfracture surgery on his right knee last September. The procedure is designed to stimulate cartilage growth by drilling tiny holes in the bone.

Recovery time can take six months or more, and the Blazers exercised caution. He would sit out the season.

The news stunned Oden, not to mention the fans who had hailed the big man as the team's savior.

Oden was the crowning piece of a rebuilding effort that had taken Portland from the "Jail Blazers" of years past to the NBA's comeback franchise.

The Trail Blazers had shed players like Rasheed Wallace and Bonzi Wells, hired disciplinarian coach Nate McMillan and brought in young talent — like guard Brandon Roy and forward LaMarcus Aldridge — placing an emphasis on character.

After going 32-50 last season, the Blazers beat the odds and landed the No. 1 pick in the June draft. There was much speculation about whether Portland would go with Oden, who played at Ohio State, or Kevin Durant out of Texas when fans filled the Rose Garden Arena for draft night.

When the selection was announced, the crowd rushed to center court and chanted "O-den! O-den!"

Oden averaged 15.7 points and 9.6 rebounds in his only season at Ohio State, despite being hampered by a wrist injury. He led the Buckeyes to the national championship game, scoring 25 points and grabbing 12 rebounds in the loss to Florida.

Before that, he was the 2006 Naismith prep player of the year — as well as homecoming king — at Lawrence North High School in Indianapolis.

He was introduced to the city at a rainy rally in downtown Portland. The turnout was big and enthusiastic, leading many to proclaim the return of Rip City, a term for the city and its fervent fans after the 1976-77 Blazers won the NBA title.

Oden played in a few summer games but offered only a brief glimpse of the future before he needed a tonsillectomy. Then came the jolting news about his rookie season.

After surgery, Oden went into the first phase of rehab — lying around for eight hours a day with a machine on his leg that manipulated his knee. It was tedious, so Oden watched "a lot of movies. A LOT of movies."

And he got a puppy, a beagle-Boston terrier mix, and named him Charles Barkley McLovin'.

"The funny thing is, I'm trying to walk him to the mall with the leash," he said. "Don't go to the mall on crutches."

After a while, Oden got off the crutches and started working out in the pool. And he took on an increased role as the future face of the Blazers.

Throughout the season, he was a looming presence on the bench at home games and on many road trips. In the pregame videoboard introduction of the team, his face was right there with Roy, Aldridge and the rest of his teammates.

In his downtime, Oden whiled away the time by blogging. He turned 20. He endorsed Barack Obama. He launched Team Oden, a mentoring project for kids.

And he has continued his workouts. Now he's even able to do a little shooting.

"His knee feels good. His knee looks good," Blazers trainer Jay Jensen said. "But again, we're going really slow with him. We're elongating this process."

Recently, Oden went to a 24-Hour Fitness near his home and played a pickup game. He even dunked a few, although he said the rims were only at 9 feet.

Word spread quickly on the Internet and made its way back to the Blazers, who weren't pleased.

Oden got a phone call from McMillan scolding him.

Oden said the ill-conceived game was a lighter workout than he gets with the Blazers. He's admittedly in no shape to play.

"Right now I can't go. I'm not ready to cut," he said. "I still have to get both my legs evenly strong. Right now, one leg's stronger than the other, I'm favoring my left knee more."

While Oden has been rehabbing, the Blazers have carried along surprisingly well considering that many wrote their season off. The NBA's youngest team finished 41-41, buoyed by a 13-game winning streak in December. Roy was named to the All-Star team in just his second season, and Aldridge is considered a candidate for Most Improved Player.

Oden, quick to joke and often sporting a toothy grin, has few laments. And they don't often center on his knee or what his own achievements might have been this season.

"It's more about being around the team and just bonding with the guys at my standpoint because I'm new coming in, so really not a lot of them knew me. I get injured, and it's like they go on the road trips and I'm staying home recovering," he said.

"You just want to get that time to bond with those guys and be a part of this team — even though I am, and they treat me like I am — but really, I'm not going through everything that they went through. I haven't played a game."

He'll get to do that next season.

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